Philadelphia, Oct 31: The Democratic presidential contenders went on the attack against front-runner Hillary Clinton, questioning whether she could win the White House and accusing her of saber-rattling against Iran and shifting her views for political gain.
With Clinton holding a big lead among Democrats in national polls ahead of the November 2008 election, rivals Barack Obama, John Edwards and Chris Dodd led a barrage of shots at the New York senator in hopes of bringing her back to the pack.
They raised Democratic fears yesterday that Clinton, a sometimes polarizing political figure who often angers opponents, could find it hard to attract independents and build a coalition that can beat a Republican next year.
Dodd, a senator from Connecticut, noted the large number of voters who consistently say in polls they would not vote for her under any circumstance.
''The fact of the matter is that my colleague from New York, Senator Clinton, there are 50 per cent of the American public that say they're not going to vote for her,'' Dodd said during a debate at Drexel University. ''We as a party certainly have to take that into consideration.'' Obama, running a distant second to Clinton in polls, questioned her leadership and said she had changed positions on trade, Iraq and other issues ''whenever it's politically convenient.'' Edwards said Clinton helped President George W. Bush set the stage for war with Iran by voting for a Senate resolution labeling an Iranian military unit as a terrorist group.
''She says she'll stand up to George Bush on Iran,'' he said.
''And, in fact, she voted to give George Bush the first step in moving militarily on Iran -- and he's taken it.'' 'vigorous diplomacy' Clinton said her vote on the Iranian resolution was aimed at building a ''vigorous diplomacy'' to rein in Iran's nuclear program. She rejected what she called the ''false choice'' between a rush to war and doing nothing.
Clinton, who turned 60 in the past week, defended her record in the Senate and the campaign trail as consistent. She noted Republican presidential candidates constantly attacked her, which she said was a sign of her effectiveness.
But Obama saw another reason, he said the former first lady's election would lead to a replay of the bickering and partisanship of the former administration of her husband, Bill Clinton.
''Part of the reason that Republicans, I think, are obsessed with you, Hillary, is because that's a fight they're very comfortable having. It is the fight that we've been through since the '90s,'' Obama said.
Obama, an Illinois senator, had indicated several times, most recently over the weekend, that he intended to be tougher in criticizing Clinton, but he did not significantly sharpen his tone.
Edwards, a former North Carolina senator, has been more aggressive against Clinton on the campaign trail and was so again during the debate.
''If people want the status quo, Senator Clinton's your candidate. That's what I believe,'' Edwards said.
With the crescendo of criticism of the former first lady at a fever pitch, New Mexico Gov Bill Richardson at one point questioned the ''holier-than-thou'' attitude of her critics.
''It's bothering me because it's pretty close to personal attacks that we don't need,'' Richardson said.
The Democrats also took aim at the Republican candidates, with Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden mocking Republican front-runner Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, and his frequent references to his record following the September 11 attacks.